Nicolas Bouliane

From Montreal to Berlin: what you need to know Posted on

This article was written from the perspective of an intern living temporarily in Berlin. Since then, I have written much more detailed guides on my other website, All About Berlin. Some parts of this article were updated in 2020 to match things I’ve learned later.

A few months ago, I got accepted for an 8 month internship with HERE in Berlin. I am set to begin on May 1 and work until December 15, 2015.

Such a trip involves a fair amount of planning, so I decided to write down my findings in the hopes of helping future Canadian travellers make their way to Germany.

Travel insurance

If you want a German work visa, or any other kind of German residence permit, you need valid health insurance.

If you go directly from Canada to Germany, don’t get travel insurance. As soon as you start working in Germany, you must get German health insurance. It’s a requirement for all German residence permits. You won’t get your work visa or Blue Card if your insurance doesn’t meet the health insurance requirements for German visas.

In Germany, health insurance is not provided by the state. You must choose one of many different health insurers. On the public system, the cost is pretty much always the same, and varies according to your income. For more information, read this introduction to German health insurance. It’s worth your time, because it’s very important.

If you’re not sure about the type of health insurance you need, ask a German health insurance broker. I have been working with Feather for a long time. I know them personally, and I can recommend their services. They based are in Germany, and they speak English.

Plane tickets

As soon as you know when you leave, get your tickets. I bought mine on January 8 for my April 23 departure. I checked again today and the prices did not change much. However, if you wait until the very last minute, you can expect a steep price increase.

Use Google Flights or Kayak to find the cheapest available tickets. It lets you find the cheapest tickets between two destinations on a range of days. I discovered I could save about a hundred dollars on my one way ticket by leaving a day earlier.

Don’t limit yourself to the airports in your home city. My Toronto-Rome flight was $300 cheaper than a Montreal-Rome flight on the same day, and this held true for several other destinations I have checked. No matter how you get from Montreal to Toronto, it will be a lot cheaper than that. With sufficient advance, you can get a bus ticket to Toronto for as low as $10 with Megabus. Busbud can help you find cheap bus tickets, and there’s always VIA rail if last minute bus tickets are too expensive. Just try to avoid Greyhound.


If you stay for more than 90 days, or if you want to work in Germany, you will need a German residence permit. This will be the trickiest part. You can obtain it from the German consulate in Toronto or from the Austrian embassy in Ottawa, but not from the German embassy.

You can also apply for it directly in Germany. It’s not easier, but it’s another option.

The consulate will only answer visa-related questions from 8AM to 9AM, and will only take visa appointments from 9 to 12. It is really hard to get a hold of someone at the consulate, but once you do, they will gladly help you in a lovely German accent. If you have any questions, make sure you call before making the 6 hour trip from Montreal to see them in person.

You can save yourself some time by applying by mail, but you will need to involve a notary. More importantly, they will only issue a 90 day visa that needs to be renewed once in Germany for an extra €100.

The visa application form will require you to give them a proof of first housing. A hotel room reservation is sufficient, as confirmed by the German consulate employee that helped me.

Finding a place to live

I wrote a much better guide on how to find an apartment on All About Berlin. You should read that instead.

This is the other tricky part. Finding a place to live in Berlin is pretty hard if you are only there for a few months. Hell, it’s hard even if you are a German-speaking long term resident. You have two options: find a furnished apartment or find a bedroom in a shared living apartment.

First, you need to know a few terms in order to begin your search. An apartment is called a flat in Europe, or Wohnung in German. A furnished flat Möbliert Wohnung means furnished apartment. A shared living apartment is called a WG (pronounced vay-gay), an abbreviation for Wohngemeinschaft.

Finding a WG Zimmer is by far the most economical solution. You can find a room close to Berlin Mitte for €450, all expenses included. However, finding a room is challenging, especially if you don’t speak German. As any Montrealer would, Berliners prefer people they can meet beforehand, and favour long term roommates.

The best way to find an room is through, as recommended by pretty much anyone you’ll ask. You can also find a few interesting offers through some Facebook groups such as this one.

The easiest way to find a place to live is to look for furnished flats. It’s far more expensive, but the convenience is worth it. In 2022, the main options are HomeLike, HousingAnywhere, Spotahome and Wunderflats.

When looking at apartment listings, use Mapnificent to find places that are close to your workplace (if applicable). Make sure to learn about the good and bad areas, although Berlin is allegedly a pretty safe city.

No matter what you choose, make sure that your apartment lets you register your address. Without that, you’ll have a really hard time getting the rest of your paperwork sorted.

Other considerations

Before you leave, you must call your bank and inform them of your travel plans. Make sure to ask about various travel fees. If your credit card company suddenly sees foreign transactions, they might block your card at a very inopportune moment.

If you want to keep your Canadian cellphone number, call your carrier and tell them you intend to travel. You can put your phone service on hold for $7 a month as long as you are not on contract. You can allegedly do the same thing with Telus and other companies. Alternatively, you can switch to a cheaper plan for the duration of your trip if you don’t fear losing your current plan. Don’t waste money getting a travel plan. Phone plans in Germany are absurdly cheap compared to ours.

Keep in mind that Europeans use different cellphone bands than some Canadian carriers. Although you will be able to call and use your data plan, you might not get LTE or even 3G speeds. This article explains it rather well. The iPhone’s LTE support page is a nice reference if you need to know which bands your phone needs to support to get LTE speeds.

You will also need to get adapters for your electronics. Canada has 110V power plugs while Europe has 220V plugs. Most power adapters support both (check the label), but even then, you will need an adapter for the German “Schuko” plug.

Life in Germany

Once you land in Germany, have a look at All About Berlin. I have created over a hundred detailed guides about life and bureaucracy in Germany. It covers things like renting an apartment, obtaining a visa, choosing health insurance and a lot more.